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Callaloo: more than just iron

Published:Wednesday | November 13, 2013 | 12:00 AM

Marsha N. Woolery, Healthy Eating & Diet

allaloo is a dark-green leafy vegetable that is usually steamed, and is most times overcooked with salted fish, salted mackerel or with beans. In recent times, there has been a new trend, 'green juice', with callaloo as one of the main ingredients.

Callaloo has many nutrients and the nutritive value varies, depending on the state in which it is eaten, whether raw or cooked.

According to the Food Composition Tables for the Caribbean (1998 and 2000), about half cup of raw callaloo provides:

26 kilocalories

2.3 milligrams of iron

611 milligrams of potassium

215 milligrams of calcium

1 gram of fibre

20 milligrams of sodium

43 milligrams of vitamin C

2.5 grams of protein

To get half-cup of cooked callaloo, one cup of raw callaloo must be used. When heat is applied to callaloo and most leafy vegetables they shrink and lose water. When callaloo, and other fibrous vegetables, are cooked, some of the fibre is converted to starch and provides energy. Cooked callaloo provides more nutrients than raw callaloo.

Half-cup cooked callaloo provides:

45 kilocalories

3.45 milligrams of iron

537 milligrams of potassium

301 milligrams of calcium

6.5 milligrams of fibre

242 milligrams of sodium

3.6 grams of protein

Recently, at the end of a nutrition talk at a church, an elderly lady asked me, 'How do you steam vegetables at home?' Intrigued by the question, I answered:

Place sauce pan with 2-3 tablespoons of water with a pinch of salt, one clove of chopped garlic,one small onion, one sprig thyme, quarter hot pepper on medium flames and heat for 1-2 minutes (look for small bubbles)

Place 1.5-2 cups of raw chopped callaloo in seasoned water and cover

Stir contents after 1.5-2 minutes on heat.

Add tomato wedges and diced carrots and cover pot for an additional two minutes

Remove from heat to prevent overcooking and serve

The participants, with a look of approval clapped. At that point, I realised it was a trap or a test, and I smiled.

How do you cook your callaloo?

Here are some tips for cooking callaloo:

Add a small amount of water to pot, because water in the cells of the leaves and stalk is removed and helps in the cooking process. Hence the phrase, 'Callaloo spring water'

Add a small amount of table salt, processed meats or fish. Persons with high blood pressure should avoid processed meats and fish and powdered seasonings.

Avoid or limit the amount of oil, margarine or butter

Cook on low flame in a covered pot.

Callaloo, the nutrients and your health

The potassium helps to lower or maintain blood pressure and regulate heartbeat. Persons with kidney disease should not eat raw or cooked callaloo because it is a potassium-rich food.

The calcium makes strong bones and teeth and aids in the clotting of blood. After seven months of age, callaloo should be a part of the infant's diet.

The fibre in callaloo helps to form bulk in the faeces, makes a person feel less hungry after eating, slows the absorption of glucose in the cells, traps excess fat in the intestines and lowers LDL (bad) cholesterol. These functions of fibre in callaloo helps to reduce the risk of obesity, controls blood-sugar levels and lowers the risk of heart disease.

Raw callaloo is an excellent source of vitamin C and should not be overcooked so that this delicate vitamin can be retained.

The protein content is higher in cooked callaloo, but is not a high quality protein. Therefore, callaloo should be added to peas, beans, fish, chicken or meat to improve the protein quality of a meal.

Cooked callaloo provides more iron than raw callaloo. However, to get the iron in the blood, callaloo should be consumed with fruits and vegetables high in vitamin C, such, tomato, oranges or West Indian cherries. The vitamin C helps to pull the iron from the callaloo into the blood to prevent anaemia (weak blood). Callaloo should not be consumed with milk or dairy products because the calcium in the milk prevents the iron from getting in the blood and increases the risk of anaemia.

Does callaloo increase blood pressure?

This is a myth! Callaloo, by itself, does not increase blood pressure. It has to do with the salt, powdered seasonings, butter, oil or margarine, and the salted/smoked/cured or processed meats and fish that callaloo is usually cooked with. Eating high-fat and high-sodium foods have been found to increase blood pressure. Callaloo is naturally high in potassium, which helps to control blood pressure.

Callaloo is no magic food, but should be a part of our diet on a regular basis.

Grow and eat ,or buy, callaloo from a safe source to boost our health and Jamaica's economy!

Marsha N. Woolery is a registered dietitian/nutritionist at Fairview Medical and Dental Center, Montego Bay and adjunct lecturer at Northern Caribbean University; email: